What you need to think about when considering the governance terms of a consortium agreement
Who is going to have to live with the consortium project governance structure? You or your legal department? Hopefully not the latter because then it means you have some sort of governance issue that that risen to the level of legal intervention. Something, despite 14 years working with consortium projects I have yet to have experienced or let alone heard of.
In the previous post you learned how to break consortium agreements into a simple mental model. Below are some practical considerations when you are reviewing the governance sections of a consortium agreement.
Most templates drafted by legal departments require that for any consortium body (work package, project committee etc.) to be quorate at least meeting 2/3 have to be present either physically or online/phone.
When you have a large consortium with more than ten partners, just being able to find one hour where all the principle investigators can be all at the same meeting is like magic. It is very frustrating when you have spent two months organising a meeting and it starts and because one person does not show up you are not quorate. It is another two months wasted in planning another meeting.
The real negative consequence of this situation is that you just start to work and make decision without bringing it to the different consortium bodies. Decision making becomes more top-down for justifiably practical reasons.
Ultimately that is not good for the collaboration. As a general rule disenfranchised partners do not contribute as much effort and resources as they could. Plus the best way to get someone to agree is to make the decision their idea or at least give them the chance to have input. Always push for ways to make voting easier.
A real practical way is to include a mechanism for email voting. If there is pushback on that just point out that by making decision making logistically more practical your will be increasing the degree to which all partners are involved in meaningful decision making.
When there is a major problem in a consortium project the origin of that problem is traceable to a deficit of interaction.
Every consortium project starts with everyone resisting the idea of having even monthly meetings. And in every one of those consortia three to six months into the project those same people are clamouring for more and more meetings.
If meetings are well structured and interactive it becomes clear to everyone that meetings are a great way to make plans and solve problems. Therefore having more meetings is ironically more efficient than fewer meetings.
It is the consultation of your consortium partners who typically have a breadth of expertise and knowledge that helps you solve difficult problems and figure out what you need to do to achieve together more than you anticipated possible.
The problem is that most consortium agreements default to a quarterly meeting schedule. It's absurd to think that you would be successful in achieving a complex project with people you don't work with daily and many you don't know all with only quarterly meetings.
What you don't want is partners who suck up substantial funding and hardly interact with the consortium. The consortium agreement is the perfect opportunity to guard against that.
Make sure that the consortium agreement enshrines at least a monthly meeting across the consortium and within each of the work packages.
It is also best practice to define roles for supporting interaction within the consortium. The roles that have to be defined include a project office to support scheduling meetings and reporting. It is also best to have someone who can act as a neutral moderator who structures and facilitates meetings.
Your consortium partners will not mind attending more meetings when good structure and facilitation turns them into productive dialogues.
Every consortium agreement contains wording on publications. This is mostly defining and right to delay publication if it impacts upon a partners IP. That makes sense, but it is important to go deeper in terms of publications.
When you publish, as you know, it is the first and last authors you get most of the credit. What you want to avoid is the situation where consortium partners are holding back because they want to compose the first draft of a paper so that they can claim first or last author rights. You can imagine how in an extreme case such hamstringing of ideas, data, and results defeats the whole purpose of working a consortium. To avoid this, you have to be proactive and think a bit counterintuitively.
Future Publication database
You can't define what a manuscript will be until you have the results, or can you?
While it is true the conclusions and the final author list will vary based upon results, at least for the major manuscripts, you have at least a general idea about the content. You can define ahead of time the general focus of several different manuscripts and who the first and last authors will be.
Such proactive manuscript planning helps avoid the situation where partners work on a set of analyses in isolation because they are trying to protect their claim lead authorship position. It also allows the consortium to operate with an abundance mindset.
When you proactively define what the manuscripts are going to be written, you can then distribute leading authorship positions between different groups and researchers. This type of proactive process also pushes everyone to think deeper and extend beyond the set of core manuscripts. The consortium agreement is a perfect moment to structure this process and make sure it happens.
A continuing source of funding and high impact research
While it would be easy to overlook the governance terms in a consortium agreement, they are what form the basis of how you will interact with your consortium partners. What I described above are just a few examples of the way you can mould the governance terms to increase the chance that you will end up with a consortium that frequently interacts in a meaningful way. A highly interactive consortium is one of the best ways to mitigate the risk that by joining a consortium, you are only adding a layer of bureaucracy to your research. The most effective consortia develop into continuing sources of funding, data, and collaborations that enable you to do high impact research that makes a real difference.
The formation of an effective consortium takes time. So, why not start to work together as soon as possible. I will be hosting a webinar later this month where we go over how you can start forming a consortium and proactively develop consortium projects. Sign up here.